Waste Reduction

Waste Reduction in Vehicle Maintenance Facilitiesvehiclewaste-2

Wastes are regulated more strictly than ever as more is discovered about the serious environmental impact of improper waste handling. Think of all the negative effects of waste in your shop alone: wasted inventory, wasted labor, reduced productivity, time spent on waste management administration and paperwork, and of course, waste disposal costs.

Pollution prevention means not producing waste in the first place or, at least, reducing the volume produced. It can also mean producing waste that is less hazardous to the environment or in the workplace. In the auto shop, pollution prevention opportunities include switching to alternative solvents, recycling solvents, reducing packaging and non-recyclable office waste, task training, labeling, spill cleanup and more.

Hazardous Waste Reduction

Aqueous Parts Cleaning

Petroleum solvents used in parts washers are highly regulated due to their environmental and health impacts. By using solvents for parts cleaning, you can create unnecessary environmental, worker health, and fire liabilities in your auto shop. Decrease the amount of volatile organic compounds (VOC) by switching to aqueous cleaners. These water-based cleaners are typically nonflammable and less than 5% VOCs. Aqueous cleaners break up dirt with heat, agitation, and soap action. Many contain rust inhibitors that help protect parts from rusting after cleaning. Aqueous spray cabinets and aqueous microbial sink-tops are common cleaning units in vehicle maintenance facilities. These units may reduce cleaning labor, wasted solution, and waste management costs. Listed are aqueous parts cleaning resources available to vehicle maintenance facilities.

Parts Washers

For infrequent users, changing parts washing equipment may not be economical, but using pump sprays with the aqueous cleaners may be as effective. Larger operations and frequent parts washing equipment users will likely benefit from an equipment switch. Busy mechanical repair shops can benefit from load-and-walk-away cabinets. Listed below are parts washer resources available for vehicle maintenance facilities.

MnTAP Fact Sheet: Aqueous Parts Washers for Small Operations (2009). Since aqueous parts washers use water-based chemistries, they can be less hazardous to operate than petroleum solvent parts washers. This fact sheet describes the options available and has a list of suppliers.

Aqueous brake washing units use waterbased cleaning solutions. These solutions are nonflammable and contain little or no volatile organic compounds. Aqueous brake washing units are widely available, perform as well as solvent-based equipment and offer many other advantages.

Antifreeze Recycling

Waste antifreeze can be recycled in order to reduce hazardous waste disposal costs and save on the cost of antifreeze purchases. Antifreeze is produced from natural gas, a non-renewable resource. Through recycling waste antifreeze, your vehicle maintenance facility can conserve resources. Although sewering may be an option for you, why drain away a reusable and possibly profitable material? Waste antifreeze should be recycled either in an on-site unit, by a mobile service, or off-site. Ask your vendors about the feasibility of adding an antifreeze recycling unit to your facility.


Handle liquids carefully. When spills do occur, use tools instead of absorbent supplies for cleanup. Remember that oily waste can’t go into the garbage. Use a squeegee and dustpan as shown to retrieve most of the oil and pour it right into your used oil container. If the floor is dirty, place a section of window screen over your funnel before you pour. Listed is an absorbents resource available to vehicle maintenance facilities.

MnTAP Fact Sheet: Tips for Simplifying Used Oil Waste Management (2010). Used oil and used oil sorbent are regulated hazardous wastes. This fact sheet highlights strategies for cutting oil use and reducing spills.

Floor Cleanup

Keeping your shop floor clean and dry reduces liabilities and increases worker safety. Vehicle maintenance facilities must properly manage spilled material cleanup and disposal. The Clean Water Act makes it illegal to discharge pollutants to surface waters. Prevent polluting the aquatic ecosystem by avoiding flushing wash water down storm drains. When spills occur, first use a squeegee and dustpan. Use rags to dry the surface where the spill occurred before mopping up the area if needed, with a mild, biodegradeable detergent.

MnTAP Fact Sheet: Floor Drain Systems (2010). Basic utilities usually are not thought about until a problem arises. Plumbing systems typically function for many years without needing attention. This fact sheet gives tips on preventing plumbing problems. It covers basic information about floor drain systems and separators and includes simple maintenance ideas.

Oil Use/Disposal

By extending the life of oil and using reusable filters, vehicle maintenance facilities can reduce the amount of disposed oil. Used oil gets recycled by being burned for energy or re-refined.

Oil Life Extension—Best Environmental Practices for Fleet Maintenance [PDF 269KB]. Fleet maintenance facilities generate a tremendous amount of used oil from routine engine maintenance. This U.S. EPA Region 9 fact sheet describes how a testing program can extend engine oil life and thus lower oil consumption, reduce used oil generation, and decrease operating costs with no risk to your vehicles.

Reusable Oil Filters—Best Environmental Practices for Fleet Maintenance [PDF 81KB]. Using reusable oil filers can save your facility money and reduce its impact on the environment. Lasting up to the life of a vehicle, reusable oil filters eliminate the waste stream created by conventional disposable filters.


Efficient painting requires skill, and it’s worth keeping in mind that skills can be honed and improved. Even small habit changes or modifying technique can make a big difference in the amount of waste produced. Invest in your employees for the long haul with routine, effective training.

MnTAP Fact Sheet: Spray Painting and Coating Waste Reduction Alternatives (2003). This MnTAP fact sheet goes in depth on many waste reduction opportunities for painting and coating process, from product design through manufacturing, coating and cleaning.

Spray paint training. The Iowa Waste Reduction Center offers military, industrial, and virtual hands-on training that help painters optimize spray technique. The Virtual Paint computerized training system allows painters to use real spray equipment to practice optimized spray techniques without use of coating materials and without producing any waste or air emissions. MnTAP has brought the Iowa virtual hands-on training to Minnesota numerous times for industrial and automotive painters. Go to the MnTAP Automotive Refinishing webpages for more details about current MnTAP training and demonstration events for collision repair shops.

Solid Waste Reduction

Refillable Spray Bottles

Compared to continuous purchase of manufactured aerosol cans, refillable spray bottles are less expensive and have a less of an impact on the environment. Refilling bottles saves money by avoiding the high cost of aerosol cans and reducing the solid and possibly hazardous waste stream they produce because that can be emptied and refilled over and over. There are two basic types of refillable spray bottles: metal, pressurized bottles that spray product using compressed air and plastic bottles that use a hand pump to spray product. An additional benefit of refillable spray bottles is saving space and reducing excess inventory.  A 2016 MnTAP video at Grandview Auto in Edina, MN explains their use of reusable aerosols:


Running for parts can result in plenty of waste plastic bags and cardboard boxes. Reusable transport packaging (totes, boxes, and bins) is used for shipping multiple trips where the return of empty transport packaging components can be repeated. This includes reusable pallets and pallet rentals. Reusable packaging can save you and the supplier money and disposal hassles. Additional benefits include better product protection, a more productive distribution flow, and improved worker safety.  Explore the opportunities and cost comparison benefits available through reusable transport packaging in your facility.

Other Waste Resources

  • MnTAP Fact Sheet: Collision Repair: Reducing Waste and Costs (2009). Cutting the amount of waste generated at your collision repair facility can help you comply with regulations and save money. This fact sheet highlights changes in materials and practices that can help reduce waste at your facility.
  • MnTAP Fact Sheet: Key Practices for Small Businesses with Regulated Waste (2005). A place for everything and everything in its place. This common-sense idea makes efficiency sense in a busy shop with lots of technicians. The tips in this MnTAP fact sheet can help you evaluate current waste management practices, increase efficiency and improve waste reduction at your shop.
  • Fact Sheets on Pollution Prevention for Auto Repair and Fleet Maintenance (1999). This collection of fact sheets provided by the EPA Region 9 provide best environmental practices for activities within vehicle maintenance and auto repair facilities.
  • Pollution Prevention Implementation Plans for Vehicle Maintenance . Developed by the Iowa Waste Reduction Center, this document provides an overview of pollution prevention options, a review of the costs and benefits associated with these options, and steps for pollution prevention implementation and financing.
  • Design for the Environment. The U.S EPA Design for the Environment (DfE) Best Practices Project is working with the automotive repair industry and individual shops to increase awareness of the health and environmental concerns associated with refinishing activities and to identify and encourage the use of safer, cleaner, more efficient practices and technologies.
  • The Transportation Environmental Resource Center website provides timely and reliable information about environmental compliance requirements at trucking and other modes of transportation facilities.